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Pointers for Success on Your New Job, Gordon Curphy, PhD


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Pointers for Success on Your New Job, Gordon Curphy, PhD

  1. 1. Pointers for Success on Your New Job:You Only Have One Chance to Make a First Impression Paul Roellig Chairman & CEO Bulletin News, Inc. Mark Roellig EVP and General Counsel MassMutual Gordon Curphy, PhD President Curphy Consulting Corporation
  2. 2. POINTERS FOR SUCCESS ON YOUR NEW JOB YOU ONLY HAVE ONE CHANCE TO MAKE A FIRST IMPRESSIONAfter numerous Internet searches, job fairs, resume submissions, and interviews, youfinally land your first professional job. The organization had a lot of candidates tochoose from and you are eager to demonstrate that it made the right decision. We and theothers who contributed to these pointers for success have seen many new collegegraduates go on to very successful careers. Unfortunately, we have seen other graduateswho made mistakes that crippled their careers. The purpose of this article is to provide aroadmap for helping new college graduates succeed in their first professional job. Youmay not like this advice and can choose to ignore it, but following these do’s and don’tswill improve the odds of having a successful career wherever you choose to work. Thisadvice is broken into three categories, which are: (1) Before You Start; (2) On Your FirstDay; and (3) Your First Two Weeks and Beyond.Before You StartThere are several things candidates can do before starting their new job. The followingactivities center around finding out more about the organization and projecting aprofessional image at work: • Learn as much as you can about the organization and its competitors by reviewing their websites. Also use the Internet to review articles and press releases about the organization and major competitors. • Contact the firm before you start and ask if there is any reading you should do in advance to give you more background. Along these lines, ask them to send you any marketing literature pertaining to the organization. • Before you start, ask your boss about the appropriate dress for work. And then insure you have a wardrobe suitable for your next, higher position, not the one you have. Baggy pants, tight skirts, and torn garments will get you plenty of attention, but not necessarily the attention you want to have. Keep shirttails tucked in and always have your shoes shined, as many people believe sloppy dressers do sloppy work. • Tattoos and piercings may have been cool in school, but are counterproductive for a rising professional. You need to remember that the people evaluating your performance are ten to twenty years older than you and, for better or worse, body art is seen as a sign of vanity and immaturity. • In all likelihood you cleaned up your Facebook, MySpace, and other social networking pages before starting the application process. You should assume that your employer reviewed your pages prior to the job offer, and you should© Roellig, Roellig and Curphy 2010 2
  3. 3. assume someone at work might check out your pages on occasion. Understand that social networking page content has been and will be used to withhold job offers and terminate employees. Make sure your social networking pages don’t contain anything that would be embarrassing to explain to your boss or employer. Also keep in mind that co-workers or bosses may go to your social networking page in the future, so you should “secure” access to such information to those who cannot impact your employment opportunities, now, or in the future. • Develop the mindset that your job is to make the company more successful. If thats the way you think, then youll end up more successful by extension.On Your First DayThink about the first day on the job as something like a first date, as you definitely wantto make a good impression on your new employer. But, unlike a bad first date, the two ofyou will be together for some time. This makes the first day at work exceptionallyimportant, and you need to treat it as such. Tips for leaving a strong, positive firstimpression include: • Make sure you bring all paperwork and documents necessary for the first day, including those provided to you by your employer (e.g., correct identification for purposes of Form I-9, employment application, if applicable, tax forms, etc.). • When walking around, even on a tour, carry a pen and notepad (it shows an organized mind and the notes can help you later). It also makes you “look busy” and will help you remember any assignments given to you on the first day. You will leave the wrong impression if you are caught in the hall and given an assignment, the details of which you forget later. • Introduce yourself to the receptionist, secretaries, and assistants around the area you work. Although they may not have any formal power, understand that these individuals can make or break you. Be nice and treat them as superiors, not the other way around. Because they know how the office operates, who is up, who is down, the culture, etc., administrative types can be a great resource for helping you learn the lay of the land. Senior members also use them as a resource to find out what is really happening in the office, so you want these people to be your supporters. • Find someone (such as an administrative assistant) who can fill you in on how the place really works and the unwritten rules of the workplace. These unwritten rules often include:  The protocol for walking into your boss’ or other superiors’ offices. Can you just walk in or do you need an appointment?  Are you supposed to knock before walking into a co-worker’s office or cubicle?  Is the organization more of a voice mail or email culture?© Roellig, Roellig and Curphy 2010 3
  4. 4.  Which senior staff members prefer to communicate via email or phone? Which ones prefer face-to-face meetings?  What is the “real” dress code?  Who, if anyone, do you call Mr. Ms., Doctor, etc.?  What are the “real” work hours for those who are moving up in the organization? • Learn the right way to shake someone’s hand. People will judge you by the way you introduce yourself and shake hands. There are four things to focus on:  Introduction - make sure you speak clearly, loudly, and confidently.  Eye contact – this is very important! Look the person directly in the eye throughout the entire handshake. Do not look away until after the release, or some people may view you as weak or rude.  Grip – this is the trickiest to master. Some people will try to test you by squeezing your hand very hard (usually a sign of a blowhard). The best way to manage this is to let them set the tone. Respond with equal force.  Duration - let them break away first if possible, and don’t be excessive or clingy. • Do your best to remember names. You will be meeting a lot of people on the first day, and as the new person at work it is very likely that everyone will remember your name. People will be impressed if you remember their names after only one meeting, and reviewing organizational charts towards the end of the day can help you to retain names and classify them by responsibilities. If you forget someones name, fess up to it immediately by saying something like: "Im sorry, but can your remind me of your name?" Trying to fake it does not work and the price to be paid later is much greater than earlier. • Always re-introduce yourself by name when meeting work associates a second or third time (unless you are absolutely certain they remember your name). Do not assume that they remember your name even if you remember theirs. Doing this eliminates the potential for an uncomfortable situation and also projects an image of self-assuredness. • Have something to do if your boss does not have any assignments ready (bring into the office the first week materials relating to the company so your can read the organization’s annual report, firm and/or industry materials, etc. if you do not have immediate assignments). And if no assignments are given to you on the first day, then dont sit in your office/cube and wait for work unless you are told to do so. Take some initiative and seek out assignments from your boss or peers. • Leave the gum at home. You would be surprised how many people look disfavoarably on people who chew gum in public.© Roellig, Roellig and Curphy 2010 4
  5. 5. Your First Two Weeks and BeyondMost people find the first day to be both exciting and overwhelming. All the names toremember, written and unwritten rules to follow, and organizational information to learnmakes the first day on the job very challenging. Just understand that everyone you meetthat first day has gone through the same learning curve. After the first day newemployees need to concentrate on making contributions to their organizations as quicklyas possible. It is assumed that a new hire is a net drag on efficiency and that a transfer ofknowledge from senior staff will turn this around. This means that the more questionsyou ask early, the more learning you do on your own time, the quicker you will become anet plus to your boss and the company (remember, no one likes to waste their timetraining the new person, so make this job easier and faster for them). The following tipscan help new employees stay out of trouble and be seen as an important contributor toorganizational success.Some General Rules to Follow • Always return phone calls and emails as soon as is possible, but most certainly the same day. • Always check, and respond when required, to email and voice mail over the weekend. • If you go out to lunch – absolutely no alcohol. • At any off-hours business events, be careful on alcohol consumption (this trips up a lot of people, and it is hard to recover from having made an immature impression). Always drink less than others.Work Assignments: Do Them Right the First Time • Take a pen and notepad into a superior’s office when being given an assignment or when seeking help and take very careful notes. When back in your office/cube, type up these notes and other recollections and save in an electronic file (you will be surprised how quickly the details will be forgotten once you get busy). • Look the person in the eye as you discuss the assignment. Sit straight in the chair and don’t slouch. • When done, repeat the assignment back to the superior (this may sound a bit juvenile but it will ensure you understand each other and save a lot of time later. And bosses appreciate staff members who do this). Make sure you ask any questions you have at the time of the first assignment. You can always go back and ask follow-up questions once you have begun the assignment, but waiting to© Roellig, Roellig and Curphy 2010 5
  6. 6. ask initial questions may cause your research/work to start down the wrong path and waste everyone’s time. • Ask when the project is expected to be completed. Note deadlines on your electronic calendar or task list. • Ask the expected amount of time to complete your assignment (you may spend more, but you probably should do this on your own time after work). • Ask how and when you should do progress reviews on the assignment (do you walk in to their office, call them, email or schedule a meeting?) • Ask for an example from the person requesting the project of the form to be used for the project (memo form, spreadsheet, etc.). Ask assistants for forms of similar assignments or past examples if need be. • Remember, your boss’ “first draft” is your final draft, so don’t hand in a half- baked effort saying that you will fix it later. Don’t ever be confused about requests for “first drafts” – your submissions will leave an impression, and if you want your boss to think highly of you then you need to deliver highly-polished final drafts. Some tips for draft assignments include;  Use consistent margins, fonts, formatting, etc.  All drafts should be typed; do not submit handwritten documents.  All drafts should use proper grammar, define terms and acronyms, and not have any typos. It is usually wise to have someone else proofread assignments before they are submitted to the boss.  Write drafts that are more formal than informal Drafts that are chatty and use slang can leave the wrong impression. If the person reviewing your work desires something less formal, he or she will let you know for your second assignment.Use of Technology: Understand the Rules • Turn your personal cell phone off, unless in a closed office or cube. Do not have it on during meetings, as this really bugs people when it goes off, especially when it belongs to a junior person. • Avoid taking calls, texting, or checking and sending e-mails in meetings or when talking with others. Your boss can get away with this, but a junior person is sending a strong signal of disrespect. Nothing will turn off peers, bosses and customers more than being ignored, and this is what you do when interrupting conversations to take or send electronic messages. • Save all emails and, when appropriate, organize them in different folders. You will be surprised how often you will need to search back for previous correspondence, sometimes a year or more later.© Roellig, Roellig and Curphy 2010 6
  7. 7. • Never visit inappropriate sites on the Internet (some companies, even small ones, track sites visited through their network and can pinpoint the user; and a good IT person can even check sites visited through a company laptop used at an employee’s home). People get fired for this all the time and it makes getting your next job more difficult. A company rightfully views its equipment as its own, no matter when or where it is used. • Don’t spend time on the Internet looking up sports scores, etc. You may think no one is watching, but they can often tell what you are looking at and it sends a clear signal about your motivation to succeed (again, Internet traffic is often monitored through the network). • Before you send any email, text or photo, assume your boss is looking over your shoulder. Studies show that 80% of businesses spot-check employee emails and are now able to capture "texts". "Sexting" can and will get you fired. Do not forward distasteful email jokes you receive; you can read and delete. And always remember that emails and texts get archived and can be accessed several years later. • Minimize the time spent on the phone in private conversations.Company Assets: Treat them as your Own • Treat the companys money as if it was your own, so only turn in expenses that are clearly business related. • Never falsify your expense reports or charge for inappropriate things. This is stealing and can result in you getting fired and ending up in jail. It’s surprising how many employees damage their career growth by creating a reputation for putting their own needs ahead of those of the organization through their expense reports. To avoid any misunderstandings, ask for a copy of the company policy on expenses and expense reporting. If you still have any doubts, then run your expense report by a peer or an administrative assistant and ask him/her to flag anything they think may not be consistent with company policy or inappropriate. You may inadvertently make a mistake on your report and this step can save you from hanging yourself (when it comes to money, people have a harder time believing you made an innocent mistake). • Never, ever use “sick time” as personal time. People who call in sick on Fridays and Mondays (always a big red flag for supervisors who have seen it many times before) often don’t get promoted and usually find themselves stuck in dead-end jobs – or back on the street.© Roellig, Roellig and Curphy 2010 7
  8. 8. • When you request vacation time, attempt to do it early and with flexibility. Don’t send the message that you deem it more important that your vacation time fits in with your schedule than the company’s or your supervisor’s schedules.Interactions in the Office • Avoid developing intimate relationships with superiors, subordinates or colleagues. Even if such relationships are technically permissible under company policy, they invariably create problems down the road. In addition, most companies have polices against a subordinate having an intimate relationship with a superior, so this can inhibit advancement opportunities for you and the other person (remembers, it’s a two-way street and not just the boss gets the blame). Finally, when co-workers are talking about you, you do not want them gossiping about who you disappeared with after last nights happy hour. • If you believe you are being harassed, sexually or otherwise, by a superior or co- worker, report it immediately to the appropriate person. If this doesn’t work, take it to the next step up the line and don’t accept it as normal. • Be cautious about which clique you find yourself falling into. You may meet people in the early days who appear pretty impressive, but then turn out to be bozos or worse. Those folks in their second or third years who seem to know whats going on can be impressive to you as a new employee, but may not be the rising stars and they are not the ones you want to be associated with. It can take some time to sort this out, so be cautious at first. • Remember that your co-workers are not the same as college friends. Regardless of how much you have in common or how much you like one another, office relationships are professional, not personal. This line is tricky, but critical. • Avoid overly passionate discussions about politics, social issues, etc. You’re more likely to inadvertently make enemies than allies. • Keep an open mind and value the diverse perspectives of others in the workplace. Just because you do not agree with someone elses position does not make it wrong. You want to be perceived as a "big thinker" and if you do not value the input of others, you will be seen as narrow-minded. There’s a perception the new person knows nothing, so don’t confirm it by acting like you know more than you do.Miscellaneous Tips for Getting Along with Others • People like people who are similar to them. Office cues can help you determine common interests and strike up conversations (e.g., pictures of skiing can lead to discussions about skiing; a picture of a dog can initiate conversations about dogs, etc.).© Roellig, Roellig and Curphy 2010 8
  9. 9. • Take advantage of both formal and informal networking opportunities (e.g. lunches, social events, casual conversations, etc.). • Offer to pay the tab for meals or drinks, but learn how to be gracious when someone else picks up the tab. If your boss, co-worker, customer or vendor offers to pay the bill, then don’t order the most expensive thing on the menu or premium liquor. When in doubt, let them go first, and order something similar. • Never make inappropriate, racial or sexual jokes. Even folks who may think they are funny may feel uncomfortable if you tell them one. This is an unwritten rule in professional workplaces and many people get tripped up on this. • Clean up your language by saying “yes” instead of “yeah,” etc. Talk like you would in your next, higher position, not like a junior person just out of school (this makes a promotion easier for superiors to envision). • Pay attention to the grapevine, but dont contribute to it. You dont want to gain a reputation as a gossiper. And don’t take sides in intra-office battles unless absolutely necessary. You are better off having everyone seeing you as a fair, neutral arbiter (that is a characteristic of a leader, which is what you will want to be at some point). • Dont complain about your boss, your office mates, any co-workers, or your previous job. Invariably, this gets back and you will pay the price. And it also makes you look like a complainer, which no one likes. A positive attitude goes a long way. • When people help you out, send the person a short note of thanks, whether they are inside or outside the organization. Just saying thanks is customary; following it up with a written note takes it to a whole new level. Remember, people like to help, but more importantly they like the help to be recognized. If you do send thank you notes, then they will reach out to help again and again. • Congratulate others when you see good work. A short email or recognition in the hall will go a long way. • Don’t try to be “cool” and dispassionate. That works in high school and in college, but in the professional world it comes across as immature.Miscellaneous Tips for Getting Ahead • Probably the most important priority early in your job will be making sure you meet, and hopefully exceed, your boss’s expectations. You must make sure you are totally aligned on what your boss and the company expect. Be proactive. If your boss does not give you a list of objectives, affirmatively create© Roellig, Roellig and Curphy 2010 9
  10. 10. a list and ask your boss if you can discuss them with him/her – break them out by first month, first six months and first year. • Depending on the size of your company, it may be beneficial to quickly figure out the company’s organization and power structure. This means more than just collecting organizational charts and lists of names, but sitting down with your boss or peers and having conversations on who does what, how the different groups or departments fit together, who makes what decisions, etc. • One of the most important ways to succeed is to work longer hours in the office than others. This gets noticed. Getting in before others is not as valuable as staying later (but always make sure you get in before your boss). All you need is a senior person to be in the office late one night and see you still there for you to get credit. Senior people always talk among themselves about the people who are putting in the longer hours. These are the keepers, even if their work is not as strong. An added benefit of staying late is that you can often strike up casual conversations with the senior people who are not tied up in meetings or on the phone, which will improve your promotion opportunities down the road. • You are now part of a work team, and teams work together to solve problems and get the job done. Show loyalty to your co-workers and share any recognition you get with the team. As one of our Presidents said: “theres no limit to what a man can do, or where he can go, if he doesnt mind who gets the credit.” • Develop the reputation as one who rolls up their sleeves and helps out wherever needed. If the receptionist gets a delivery of office paper, don’t just walk by and think it’s her job to put it in the supply room. Volunteer to take it there. If the kitchen countertop is a mess, then take a paper towel and clean it up. If you are the first in the office, make the coffee. This attitude to help out on even mundane tasks gets noticed by supervisors and also makes clear you don’t have a “not my job” attitude. • If it doesn’t conflict with your work and you have the time, seek out and volunteer for opportunities to sit in on meetings and presentations even if they do not relate directly to the work you are assigned. This will help you better understand the company’s objectives and network with other parts of the organization. • When asked for your opinion, give it. If the boss chooses to do as you recommended, great. If the decision is not what you recommended, then do whatever you can to make the decision work. Be happy if it turns out you were wrong and be gracious if it turns out you were right. Avoid developing a reputation for being one who second-guesses every decision. • Take detailed notes in all meetings and during phone conversations and type up and save the important points in an electronic file. Once you get busy you’ll be surprised how much important information you forget, and having ready access to© Roellig, Roellig and Curphy 2010 10
  11. 11. past observations and decisions through a searchable archive will save you from a lot of mistakes. Note taking also makes a strong impression on senior people in meetings. • If you make a mistake, then point it out to your supervisor right away. If they find it first and believe you knew about it and didn’t tell them, then they won’t trust you again. This is very important as trust is critical to this relationship. Remember, people who acknowledge their own shortcomings are sending a strong signal that they have so much confidence in themselves that they can admit their mistakes without worry. Those who don’t acknowledge their own mistakes are deemed to be thin-skinned and insecure (and the assumption is that the reason for this insecurity is that they have a track record of failure, not success). • Never do anything illegal or unethical that you are asked to do by a supervisor. People do it all the time, and they end up in jail or with ruined careers. • The smartest people are those who know what they don’t know. When you are in your element, act with confidence. When you are over your head, figure out whether its something you have the time and ability to teach yourself or learn from a peer. If not, then tell the boss you are going to need help. It is better to ask for help than having to admit later you screwed up, especially if it is something that is really important. • Learn what youre good at and what you like. Aim your career in this direction. People who are miserable at work are much less likely to thrive. • Its up to you to track your accomplishments; no one else will do it for you. Tracking your accomplishments helps in raise, bonus and promotion decisions and for future job-hunting. • Only recommend people for employment at your new job who you believe are strong candidates. The perception of your leadership skill, including the all- important ability to judge talent, is at stake here. You can help friends and family in other ways, but don’t set them up for failure and tarnish your career as a result. • Always volunteer for extra work. • Stay positive, alert and energetic. Get good nights sleep and come to work prepared to add value. Coming into the office in the morning tired, with a hangover, will not be viewed as funny or appropriate. • Even if the job is not working out for you, you still need to perform well. Understand that is the first stepping stone in your career and finding a new job is much easier if you are in one than explaining why you are not employed. Remember, references matter, so strive to develop good ones.© Roellig, Roellig and Curphy 2010 11
  12. 12. • Keep your desk clean and organized (a cluttered desk signifies a cluttered mind). • Never assume youre irreplaceable. Few people are.ConclusionHopefully these pointers from some of us who survived through those first few days,weeks and months will help you to succeed in your new opportunity. First impressionscan jumpstart a career and accelerate your transition from student to professional, or slowdown your career prospects. Obviously, these pointers do not relate to your “substantive”work. So in addition to making a great impression, the work you do has to be highquality and add value to your company. Quantity of work matters, but so does the qualityof work. Your success, however, depends on much more than just your individualoutput. How you fit in an organization and how you improve the work environment foryour co-workers is also very important.These pointers are universal truisms and necessary guidelines, but alone will not makeyou a success. And, yes, like all of us, you will make mistakes, but the challenge will beto recover and learn from them. At some point you will be adding bullets to this list;hopefully tips that help one get promoted rather than those that get people fired.Good luck. We wish you the very best and an incredibly successful career. _____________________Paul Roellig is the Chairman and CEO of Bulletin News, Inc.Mark Roellig is the Executive Vice President and General Counsel of Massachusetts Mutual Life InsuranceCompany (“MassMutual”). Before joining MassMutual in 2005, Mark served as general counsel andsecretary to the following three public companies prior to their sale/mergers: Fisher Scientific InternationalInc., Storage Technology Corporation (“StorageTek”) and U S WEST Inc. Mark received his bachelor’sdegree in applied mathematics from the University of Michigan, earned his law degree from GeorgeWashington University, and his M.B.A. from the University of Washington.Gordy Curphy is the President of Curphy Consulting Corporation, a leadership consulting firm based in StPaul, MN. Prior to starting his own business in 2003, Gordy was a Vice President and General Managerfor Personnel Decisions International and an Associate Professor at the USAF Academy. Gordy earned hisbachelor’s degree from the USAF Academy and his PhD in industrial and organizational psychology fromthe University of Minnesota.© Roellig, Roellig and Curphy 2010 12